PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK: Local trend an outlier
in election demographics
Tuesday, November 20, 2012 6:00 AM
The common wisdom on the presidential election two weeks ago is that President Barack Obama's victory is a reflection of changing demographics in our nation. Obama won a second term despite winning just 39 percent of white voters, according to national exit polls.
That makes his victory in Fillmore and Houston counties, for the second straight election, puzzling. The two counties are nearly 99 percent white.
Pundits say one reason Obama won was by carrying Hispanic voters, which happens to be the largest minority in the two local counties, but still less than 1 percent of the population, thus having an insignificant impact on the outcomes.
His coalition also includes voters under 40. In Fillmore and Houston counties that is only about a third of the population. Nationwide, only 44 percent of voters older than 65 voted for him, exit polls show, yet that is a significant portion of the local population.
So how did Obama capture 52.5 percent of the vote in Fillmore County and 50.6 percent of the vote in Houston County?
There are no exit polls in our counties, as voters make up less than 1 percent of the nearly 3 million voters in Minnesota. All we have to go on are the county voter records, which show he is the most popular president this century through the four national elections so far.
In 2008, 52.7 percent of Fillmore County voters and 54.3 percent of Houston County voters supported him.
In the previous elections of 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush was the choice in Houston County. In Fillmore County, Democrat John Kerry carried the county in 2004, although with just 49.8 percent support, and Democrat Al Gore carried the county in 2000, although again with less than 50 percent of the vote.
It's not that the counties predominantly support one party in all elections or that there is a shift to Democrats in voting. Although there have been exceptions, usually for just one term, Republicans generally represent the district in the state House and Senate. Often, the Republicans are elected by landslide margins in the two counties.
Earlier in this century, former U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a Republican, was widely popular, as much as Democrat Tim Walz is now. There was no gradual shift. And Senate vote totals are all over the board, sometimes by a landslide, as the Amy Klobuchar victory this election, but often-tight races going either way.
One person with an interest in election trends speculated that the presidential voting locally might have something to do with the Norwegian heritage in the area. That does seem possible when looking at certain cities with more Norwegian heritage, such as Lanesboro that gave Obama 66.7 percent and Spring Grove where Obama had 61.2 percent of the vote.
Still, the question is why would that hold true only for presidential elections in the two counties and why especially for President Obama?
We'll never have hard data to determine the answer, but maybe readers have some ideas. Anyone with a theory? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, write or call our office. Although numbers won't be available to prove any conclusion, and the answer isn't going to have an impact on any national campaign strategy, it is a trend that makes one curious.